Sunday, October 11, 2009


THE TORCH OF COOL


During the Inquisition that was my teenage days, now way back there in mythohistory along with Achilles, Thermopylae and all that other stuff I've forgotten about since high school, I remember being puzzled as to why the grownups, then perceived as the nearly dead, were so revolted by my super-slick D.A. haircut with a rattail in front, my cherry-red sweater-vest with the black-gray-and-white-striped border over my knockout black shirt with the gold front panel tucked into my ultracool slim-belted 14-inch-pegged white flannel slacks with rattail comb sticking out of the back pocket, the pantcuffs breaking perfectly on my high-sided ox-blood cordovan ducks with a diamond shine. I couldn't figure out the attitude of the nearly dead, in the microseconds I gave it any thought. But in the fundamental certainty that unites all teenagers I was sure that anyway the old was gone forever and the new was here to stay. This was it. The style was set in stone.

I'd be wearing pegged pants and cordovan ducks and a DA haircut when I was 80, and my kids and their kids would too, all the way to the end of time, because who would ever need more than life requires, which is to be the coolest of the cool for as long as possible? And when at last one light-years-distant day I had miraculously reached the ancient age of fifty, I wouldn't have to manifest the revulsion I saw every day on the faces of the nearly dead of the 1950s toward the hypercool duds of the new era.

But now I've reached that half-century mark that was once so far away, the hair's a bit thin for a DA and rat-tail, even if I had the desire, not to mention the time, the grease and the warped sense of history, to create them; 14-inch pegged pants, I'd have to let them out at the waist and thighs, probably even the ankles; and red sweater vest over black gold-panel shirt, forget it, I haven't got the body for that, let alone an interest in defending garments. What's more, I haven't seen a pair of cordovan ducks in a shoe store for over fifty years now; and anyway, why the hell would I want to look like a 50's teenager in my 60s? And who would know but other sixty-year-olds from Elm Street? Wherever they are now.

Besides, now that I've passed my Achilles-equivalency and had hands-on experience with the Thermopylae factor, and having realized all too clearly that I myself am now one of the nearly dead-- in other words, now that I perceive (as only the nearly dead can) the fingerpoppin' transience of things, especially teenagers and teenage fads, I stop and look at the teenagers grungeing along around me, the females dressed like Crazy Jane with their hair done to look like they've just been saved from drowning, the guys with hair like somebody ran their heads through wet concrete, their bodies layered in torn t-shirts hanging out of these at-the-knees pants you could catch a cow in one leg of that end cuffless above shoes my great grandfather would have thought the ultimate in style and I can't help it: I want to say something dissuasive to these little boys as they slag down the street like the ultimate rag men, I want to say something corrective to these little girls walking by like 14-year-old bag ladies, but what for? Teenagers can't hear, as I remember.

So instead, like King Lear I cry to the darkening sky, 'Whatever happened to sharpness?' To the rains and the winds I shout, 'Where is the cool of yesteryear?' But the weather does not answer, any more than it did for Lear or my father or his father before him, when they too stood stumped on the doorstep and watched the kids go beyond reach reach in some incomprehensible fashion, and it comes to me that each new group, in stepping out thus, flares then in its one bright moment of flaming (or smouldering) youth before growing into age, in its turn bearing the torch of the one true style into eternity; that maybe only great grandfathers in the great beyond can look at what kids wear nowadays and smile, smile at how it has all come round again, just like they always knew it would, to one the true style, the way it is in heaven.

2 comments:

joared said...

Oh, this is such a poignant post in some ways as I recall "the look" of those '50's days. The guys did, indeed, look "cool!"

My mind pictures you and your attire from the words you've written.

There's so much more encompassed in your thoughts here regarding teenagers from all generations. Styles can have a way of recycling.
Ah, yes, that one true style!

R. Brady said...

Oh yes, we were cool, we were cool... Way cooler than the mere chill of today...